Sport on TV: A grim vision and the collapse of tour party

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The Independent Online
SO THERE we were on day four, 80 minutes left to play, with England going in to bat for their second innings, looking to steady themselves and then plug away at the entirely feasible target set by the West Indies of 194. Easy.

So there we were on day five, with England eight wickets down, needing six runs just to creep above their worst Test performance ever and with Sky Sports' Charles Colville standing by the pitch looking somewhat queasy. 'A little difficult to know what to say this morning in Trinidad,' he said.

But then, frankly, Colville, who is tall, blazered and looks like the captain of a university boat team, finds it difficult to know what to say even when there's a script in front of him. Clumsily, in his opening remarks, he called Curtly Ambrose's six-wicket, fourth-day rampage 'one of the great spells of English Test demolitions'. He'd had all night and half a morning to work on that line. There was worse. Here we were, at a uniquely devastating moment for English cricket, and this is how Colville chose to introduce his commentating colleagues: 'With me, two men who have seen it all before, I'm sure - David Gower and Bob Willis.' It was an object lesson in flattening the occasion. What would it take to get this man going? 'A nuclear warhead has just been tested in the east stand. Nothing unusual there, Tony Cozier.'

The big collapse on Tuesday made astonishing television. Atherton went before you'd really got your cushions sorted out and then Ramprakash followed in that bizarre run-out incident. 'That really is a complete tragedy,' said Gower, though actually it was more like a cartoon. Hopping backwards and forwards at the bowler's end, with his bat held out in one hand, Ramprakash resembled an over-stuffed Musketeer, shadow-fencing.

After that, it was all uprooted stumps and Ambrose punching the air where an English batsman had once stood. There was scarcely time to wonder why one of the advertising hoardings at the Queen's Park Oval should bear the official insignia of Chelsea FC.

Wednesday's play lasted 18 minutes - the post mortems considerably longer. In a bold one- man political protest, Bob Willis seems to have renounced facial expressions pending an investigation into English cricket at the very highest levels. Colville asked him if he thought this appalling defeat carried a message. Willis said, without moving his lips: 'I think we need to completely restructure the game in England, dismantle professional cricket as we know it.' Good job it hadn't been something really humiliating, like an innings defeat, or Bob would have been considering invading Poland.

Sadly, the two hours of screen- time it would have taken to unpack these radical ideas just weren't available, but Willis did go on to say he thought the new youthfulness policy (only players with no experience need apply) was misguided. He personally wasn't intending to smile again or move his jawbone until such time as David Gower was back in the side. Or Allan Lamb. And while we're on the subject, what's Alan Knott doing these days?

'On-believable,' said Geoffrey Boycott, whose dour straight- talk is one of the few reliable aspects of Sky's coverage. Boycott is pleasingly given to colourful verbs though, at the risk of quibbling ungratefully, he does tend to repeat himself. On Tuesday, if you'd had a pound for every time Boycott described Ambrose's fast balls as 'banged in', you would have had . . . well, pounds 3, but you get my point. Deeply informed tacticians are not necessarily television's most heart-warming figures (witness also the brilliant but less than cuddly Alan Hansen on BBC's Match of the Day), but this is a small price to pay for their learnedness, and Boycott is nothing if not in the know.

Afterwards, in the village fete atmosphere of the presentation awards beside the pavilion, David Gower, brandishing an extra-large Sky microphone, congratulated Ambrose on his Man of the Match award but then immediately questioned him about his faintly anaemic form in the first Test. This was rather like being granted an interview with George Best and concentrating exclusively on his days at Fulham. But all was forgiven when Gower got to Atherton and managed to slam one, Courtney Walsh style, into his ribs. The England captain was trying to pretend that if his side hadn't dropped a couple of catches during the West Indies' second innings, then they would only have been chasing 110 to win. 'Would still have been a few too many by the look of it,' said Gower who, in his role as commentator and link-man, is discovering all the impish glee with which he never played cricket.

Before this, the chairman of the Trinidad and Tobago cricket association had lavished warm praise on the home side, but then added, in one of those courteous gestures which goes slightly wrong along the way: 'It would not have been possible if we did not have the English team with us.' So there we were.